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THE GAMBIA 2005

Tour run for the Brighton RSPB Group

The Brighton RSPB group visit to the Gambia was the first for most to sub-Saharan Africa. Thus the noise and vivid colour of this country were to come as a surprise. Highlights were many: colourful Bearded Barbets; Red-billed Hornbills; the sound of the many Common Bulbuls; plus doves of at least three species enlivened the breakfast table from day one. Even the local White-faced Whistling Ducks flew over!

Then off to visit some of the local coastal reserves. Yundum, Abuko and Tanji. A total of 13 different Egrets/herons and six species of tern were to be eventually seen. The first sightings of Green and Violet Turacos were greeted with gasps of amazement, as their wing panels seem to light up in flight. The constant 'beeping' of the Yellow-fronted Tinkerbirds was eventually tracked down to this diminutive little bird with the loud voice. And our first Little, Blue-cheeked and Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters.

A trip to Pirang produced the rare Black Crowned Crane and our first Yellow-billed Oxpeckers. This old prawn fishery is being resurrected and also produced Greater Flamingoes, African Spoonbills and more familiar Palaearctic wintering waders.

The trip up river brought a taste of the real Africa, something that cannot be experienced by staying on the coast. The North Road is now a much improved surface and good time was made to Tendaba Camp. After booking in, a pirogue trip on the river produced our first African Fish eagles as well as Goliath Herons, Blue-bellied and Woodland Kingfishers as well as diminutive Mouse-brown Sunbirds and enormous Woolly-necked Storks. The following morning our first Long-crested Eagle graced the airfield.

The Farra-fenni Ferry linking to the surrounding parts of Senegal gave an insight to local transport. It was here that the iPod came into its own, tempting at least three Winding Cisticolas from their reed bed, while Hamerkops walked around almost at our feet.

The first sighting of the enigmatic Egyptian Plover was quickly followed by six more as a flock of over 700 Collared Pratincoles wheeled across the marshes at Kau-ur, some alighting quite close. The ferry brought us once more across the river to Bird Safari Camp where as is normal the generator was not working and candles and torches were the order of the day. After eating our evening meal the sound of African Scops-owls brought out the spotlight, and before long this tiny owl was looking down on us wondering what all the fuss was about.

The road east of Georgetown is quite good and it was not long before Northern Carmine and Red-throated Bee-eaters joined our list. The bustle of the ferries was watched during a lunch break. A water hole revealed Eurasian and Rüppell's Griffon-vultures, White-backed and Hooded Vultures. Then a cry from Helen and we all scrambled to see a fine White-headed Vulture standing aloof from the rest. For many THE highlight of the trip was breakfast on the boat as we drifted at dawn down river from Georgetown to Sapu. In the morning light numerous baboons were still visible in the trees, kingfishers and Swamp Flycatchers darted amongst the foliage while the noise of the Hadada Ibis sounded all a round us.

Leaving Sapu we followed the now rapidly deteriorating South Bank Road. Stops at the Jahalli Rice fields added more birds to our list including giant Marabou Storks and over 200 African Jacanas. A visit to a local school to deliver much needed teaching aids interrupted our journey back to the coast but very worthwhile.

The last few days were frantic as retraced some of our earlier steps to catch up on species missed first time around. On a second visit to Abuko a Snowy-crowned Robin Chat eventually gave its self up to the group.

The final morning found us at the local sewage ponds to see our only Greater Painted-snipe of the trip. A total of 31 raptors meant that eyes were often raised skywards. My mispronunciation of Grey Kestrel at the first log became renamed Brighton Kestrel If you want to know this in joke, ask a member of the Brighton RSPB Group!

Egyptian Plover

Egyptian Plover